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The Origins of Intel's New Transistor, and Its Future

A Q&A with Chenming Hu, coinventor of both the FinFET and its likely competitor

6 min read

9 May 2011—Last Wednesday, Intel announced a big change to the electronic switches at the heart of its CPUs. Going forward, the firm will be using three-dimensional transistors to take the place of long-used planar devices.

The new transistors—dubbed "tri-gates"—are a variation on the FinFET, a transistor design that substitutes the flat channel through which electrons flow with a 3-D ridge, or fin. Popping the channel out of plane and draping the gate—which switches the transistor on and off—over it will allow Intel to shrink the smallest features in its transistors from 32 nanometers to 22 nm while cutting power consumption in half. This feat would be impossible to do with the transistor design the company had been using.

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3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper
Green

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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